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The ending of 'Terminator: Dark Fate', untangled and explained

Spoilers ahead! Here's how the timeline of 'Terminator: Dark Fate' works out.

Paramount Pictures

Isn’t it great to have really good Terminator movies again? Besides Star Wars, it was the hard-hitting 1984 film The Terminator and its game-changer sequel, T2: Judgment Day, paved the way for science-fiction blockbusters. And while the series floundered for the next two decades, the power of the Terminator is back in Terminator: Dark Fate.

But in wiping the slate clean — Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys are no longer canon — Dark Fate had its work cut out in bringing back Sarah Connor and the A.I. that threatens mankind.

But one character in particular, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Carl,” is a bit of a story wrinkle that can trip up just about anyone.

Spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate ahead.

Who is the new T-800?

The T-800 in Dark Fate is not the same T-800 seen in 1994’s T2: Judgment Day. In Dark Fate, the T-800 played by Schwarzenegger’s is a stray sent back in time by Skynet. It’s still programmed to John Connor, even though Sarah Connor’s actions in T2 prevented the creation of Skynet.

Seems the Terminator franchise learned something from Avengers: Endgame: Changing the past does not change the future.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back (again) as a T-800 in 'Terminator: Dark Fate'.'Paramount Pictures

Wait, what? Here’s how it works.

In the opening of Terminator: Dark Fate, it’s 1998 — three years after the events of T2: Judgment Day. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) relaxes at a beach in Guatemala after saving mankind from “Judgement Day.” Because of Sarah and her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong, who lends his likeness to be digitally de-aged), Skynet does not exist in the future.

But one of the Terminators sent by Skynet — another T-800, one that did not help the Connors in T2: Judgment Day — still corners them and kills John. With the T-800’s mission complete, it disconnects from Skynet and begins to find its own purpose. That’s when the T-800 realizes the error of its ways.

The T-800 adopts the name “Carl” and embeds itself with humanity. “Carl” meets a woman, a single mother, and raises her son as its own. Carl also begins a draping business, and based on one of the best gags in the film, is very good at it. (Always remember: A single color can ruin a whole room.)

All the while, Carl secretly sends coordinates of other Terminators sent from the future to Sarah Connor, who doesn’t know who is sending them or why.

Almost like clockwork, every two years a Terminator drops in, tasked with killing humanity’s future resistance leaders. In the years between John’s death to the events of Dark Fate, Sarah unknowingly worked with Carl the T-800.

That’s it?

That’s it. While Schwarzenegger is forever known as the T-800, it’s important to remember that in Terminator lore (whether canon or not canon), T-800s are only machines. Like your laptops and iPhones, there are many just like them.

So when the T-800 (soon to be “Carl”) shows up to kill Sarah and John, they aren’t shocked because their friendly T-800 from T2 is back. They’re terrified because it means, oh dang, it’s another super strong robot programmed to do one thing and one thing only, which is kill John Connor.

Unfortunately, Carl succeeded in his mission. But fortunately, good and evil can’t always be programmed. It can be learned, which is how the heroes of Terminator: Dark Fate work to prevent another “Judgment Day.”

Terminator: Dark Fate hits theaters on November 1.

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